Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books

Growing Up Female

flower fables

Growing up female in American was no picnic. Or so it would seem, based on the many sentimentalized stories that sought to prepare girl readers for tragedy, hardship, and self-sacrifice. And that’s just the literature intended for the white upper-class audience. Harriet Jacobs reveals that for young girls living in slavery, everyday life was far more difficult and the future far more bleak:

“I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white child; the other was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away from the lovely sight . I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave’s heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her happy bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink.”

Conduct Manuals

Lydia Green Abell.

Woman in her Various Relations; Containing Practical Rules for American Females.
New York: J.M. Fairchild & Co., 1855. 
woman in her various relations containing practical rules for american femaleslydia green abell








Caroline Kirkland, 1801-1864.

The Evening Book: or, Fireside Talk on Morals and Manners, with Sketches of Western Life.
New York: Charles Scribner, 1852.
the evening book or fireside talk on morals and manners







Maria Jane McIntosh, 1803-1878.

Woman an Enigma; or, Life and Its Revealings.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848.
Barnwell-Singleton Collection. Donated by Mr. and Mrs. David Phillips.
woman an enigma of life and its revealings










Maria Jane McIntosh, 1803-1878.

Ellen Leslie; or, the Reward of Self-Control.
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1856.
ellen leslie or the reward of self-control
Advice manuals like these targeted young female readers with instruction in etiquette, religion, and future household duties. From a very young age, girls were taught to serve others. As Mrs. Abell puts it, “Woman . . . is the center flower, the main-spring, the pendulum that keeps all the delicate machinery in regular motion. Exercising this power suitably, all the parts of household occupations are performed . . . and comfort for her family is provided, even at the expense of many an exhausted nerve, and an aching heart.” Note the handwritten inscription on Woman an Enigma, indicating that this book was a gift from a mother to her daughter.

Frances E. Willard, 1839-1898.

How To Win. A Book for Girls.
New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1886.
how to win a book for girls
Most famous as a leader of the international temperance movement, Willard was also a proponent of women’s suffrage and higher education. Thus, this book differs radically from the four conduct manuals also displayed here. It includes chapters on identifying your personal talent, finding work in journalism and reform, and learning to “hold your own” in marriage.


Leisure Time Amusements: “See, Jane, here is a little stick, with which you are to be struck while blindfolded.”

Henrietta Dumont.

The Lady’s Oracle: An Elegant Pastime for Social Parties and the Family Circle.
Philadelphia: H.C. Peck & Theo. Bliss, 1852.
Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection of John Milton.
the lady's oracle, an elegant pastime for social parties and the family circle





Caroline Gilman, 1794-1888.

The Sibyl, or, New Oracles from the Poets.
New York: Putnam, 1849.
Barnwell-Singleton Collection. Donated by Mr. and Mrs. David Phillips.
the sibyl or new oracles from the poets






Eliza Leslie, 1787-1858

The American Girl’s Book; Occupation for Many Hours.
New York: R. Worthington, 1880.
the american girl's book
Many families owned books such as these, containing parlor games for children and young adults. Leslie’spopular collection, which remained in print well into the twentieth century, provides instructions for doll making and card games, jokes and riddles, and directions for group games like the one shown here. Oracles were intended for older readers. Each section begins with a question such as “How do you pass your time?” followed by a series of quotes drawn from popular verse that, when randomly selected and read aloud, told a player’s fortune. These sorts of books typically fuse entertainment with moral instruction. What do you suppose girls learned by playing “Two Blind Sisters”?

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, 1844-1911.

Kitty Brown and Her Little School.
Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1852.
the party at brook runaway
This children’s book is from a 4-part series about the title character’s spiritual awakening and religious training. The writer published under the pseudonym H. kitty brown and her little schoolTrusta, avoiding direct acknowledgment for her many popular works. After Phelps’s death, however, her daughter took her name and became a famous novelist in her own right. Interestingly, the daughter’s works often focus on frustrated and forgotten female artists.








Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888.

Flower Fables.
New York & Boston: H.M. Caldwell Co., 1909.
flower fables
This was Alcott’s first published work, at age 23. It contains seven tales, each teaching a specific moral virtue, which she wrote originally for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter, Ellen. This later edition was chosen in part for its elaborate cover design.


Susan Warner [pseudonym Elizabeth Wetherell],1819-1885.

The Wide, Wide World.
Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1892.
the wide wide world
Nineteenth-century ideas about growing up female in the U.S. were the wide wide worldsometimes rather morbid. This novel, the first American bestseller, traces the maturation of Ellen Montgomery through a series of losses and hardships, beginning with her mother’s death. Along the way Ellen grows attached to her neighbor John Humphreys, whose stern (and rather creepy) emotional and physical domination teach her submission and self-control.


“The Young Musician.”

In: The Ladies Companion.
New York: William W. Snowdon, Volume 17, May 1842.
the ladies companion
This narrative vignette and accompanying image portray a young girl who earns her parents' approval when she teaches herself to play the piano. They praise their precious child lavishly and then reward her with a song of her own, played by the mother and penned by the father, The Ladies Companion was a popular monthly literary magazine based in New York; many of the authors presented in this exhibition published their work in its pages.




Sampler, 1886.

Made by Caroline Rutledge, Age 12, of Hampton Plantation,
Charleston County, SC.
Collection of McKissick Museum, gift of William D. Workman Jr.
sampler 1886
Young girls perfected and exhibited their needlepoint skills by completing samplers. This intricate sampler highlights twelve-year-old Caroline Rutledge’s handiwork as well as her knowledge of scripture. Religious instruction was an essential part of a girl’s domestic education throughout the nineteenth century. 



Dollhouse Furniture, ca. 1900-1915.

Collection of McKissick Museum, gift of Maude Byrnes.
dollhouse furnituredollhouse furniture
As a young girl played with these intricate dollhouse furnishings, she absorbed society’s expectations for her adult life. Beauty was the ultimate female goal. It was not enough for a woman to be physically attractive; she also was expected to create beautiful goods. 

Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888.

Flower Fables.
Boston: Briggs & Co., 1855.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.
flower fablesearth and air seemed filled with beauty
Written when Alcott was sixteen and originally told to Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Flower Fables was not published until six years later in 1854. The publisher included an erroneous publication date of 1855, which was never corrected. This was Alcott’s first published book.
Written as a form of ‘conduct manual’ for young girls, the stories of fairy fantasy in Flower Fables instructed girls in the virtues of love, humility, charity, compassion, and contentment.
While most of the stories emphasize the rewards of being virtuous and kind, “Lily-Bell and Thistledown” focuses primarily on the suffering inflicted by selfish individuals and the pain they eventually experience as the cost of their actions.
The University’s copy is inscribed on the front page with the name of its owner, “Lizzie L Freeman, Jonesville, 1867”. 

Label: Cynthia Parker.

Woman’s Conduct Manual of the 19th Century

Farrar, Eliza Ware Rotch, 1791-1870.

A Young Lady’s Friend: A Manual of Practical Advice and Instruction to Young Females on Their Entering upon the Duties of Life after Quitting School.
Boston: American Stationer’s Company, 1836.
a young lady's friend
Of the conduct manual genre, A Young Lady’s Friend was Farrar’s most popular work. For this particular book, Farrar used the anonymous author name “A Lady.” Shown here is an inscription from a mother to her daughters. This copy was a gift given as a handbook for guiding young girls on entering society as women upholding the ideal of true womanhood.

Label: Lindsey Coffey.


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